Joan Freeman: The senator and mental health advocate running in the Irish presidential election

The founder of suicide intervention charity Pieta House is standing on a platform to improve mental health across Ireland

Ben Kelly
Thursday 25 October 2018 08:30
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Irish Minister for Justice backs Michael D Higgins for re-election

Senator Joan Freeman has secured a nomination to stand in the upcoming Irish presidential election.

The election has been called for 26 October, and will see the current President Michael D Higgins seek a second term, while facing competition from Sinn Féin candidate Liadh Ní Riada, and a few potential independents.

Who is Joan Freeman?

Joan Freeman is a psychologist from Dublin who is best known for Pieta House, a suicide intervention charity she established in 2006. There are 13 centres around Ireland which provide free services for people in suicidal distress or engaging in self-harm.

From this, she launched an annual event called Darkness Into Light, in which participants walk or run for 5km as dawn breaks, to raise funds for suicide prevention. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part, and the event now takes place in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2015, she also developed Solace House in New York, to serve Irish citizens in the US.

In 2016, Freeman became an independent Senator in the Irish Seanad, after being nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. She helped form Ireland’s first Committee on the Future of Mental Healthcare, and also chairs it.

She is married and has four children.

What does she stand for?

Ms Freeman wants to use the office of president to draw attention to mental health issues, and generate more national discussion around the problem. She has also promised to hold a summit on the issue.

Speaking in Carlow in August, she told local councillors, “I am accused of being a one-trick pony, but that trick is very big.”

Ms Freeman has revealed she voted No in the referendum on repealing the eighth amendment, but would be happy to sign the bill into law as president.

Nevertheless, attention has been drawn to her links to the pro-life movement, including her sister Theresa Lowe and her niece Maria Steen, who argued publicly for a No vote.

Ms Freeman has suggested the current term of seven years for an Irish president should be reduced to five.

What are her chances of winning?

Ms Freeman has secured her nomination to be on the ballot paper after winning the support of the required four country councils. These were Cork, Fingal, Galway County and Galway City.

It has been pointed out that she is relatively inexperienced in politics, having only been a senator for two years. She has also never contested an election, having been put in the Seanad by appointment from the Taoiseach.

However, she has proved fairly affable in her campaign so far, and her mental health initiative is certainly one which strikes a chord with modern Ireland.

It has also been suggested that she could represent a slightly more conservative element on the ballot paper, when compared with the famously left wing incumbent Michael D Higgins, and Liadh Ní Riada, who comes from a similar side of the political spectrum.

It is highly unlikely Ms Freeman will win the election, but the exact level of her success will depend on how many independents make the final line up

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